Home  »  Volume VI: June  »  St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Cæsarea, Confessor

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VI: June. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

June 14

St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Cæsarea, Confessor

        From his own works, and the panegyrics and funeral discourses compiled by St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Amphilochius, and St. Ephrem, all his intimate acquaintance; and from the Church historians. See Hermant, Tillemont, Cave, &c. also Jos. Assemani in Calend. Univ. ad 1 Jan. t. 6, p. 4.

A.D. 379.

ST. BASIL the Great, the illustrious doctor and intrepid champion of the Church, was born towards the close of the year 329 at Cæsarea, the metropolis of Cappadocia. His parents were Cappadocians by birth, both equally illustrious for their nobility, and descended from a long line of renowned heroes. But his father was by extraction from Pontus, where his ancestors had long nourished. St. Macrina, his grandmother by the father’s side, and her pious husband, whose name has not reached us, suffered the confiscation of their estates and torments almost to death for the faith, in the reign of Maximinus II. in 311. Another time escaping by flight, they lived seven years concealed in the great forests of Pontus, where they were wonderfully fed by stags, as St. Gregory Nazianzen assures us. 1 Our saint’s father St. Basil the Elder, and his wife St. Emmelia, adorned the conjugal state by their saintly conversation. Their marriage was blessed with ten children, of which they left nine living, all eminent for virtue; those that were married and lived in the world seeming no way inferior in piety to those who served God in holy virginity, as St. Gregory Nazianzen tells us. Four were sons and the other five daughters. St. Macrina was the eldest of all these children, and assisted her mother in training up the rest in perfect virtue. The eldest among the boys was St. Basil: the other three were Naucratius, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Peter of Sebaste. Our saint was the fruit of his mother’s prayers, and in his infancy by the same means recovered his health in a dangerous sickness, when he had been given over by the physicians, as St. Gregory of Nyssa relates. He received the first tincture of virtue from his grandmother St. Macrina the Elder, under whose care he passed his infancy in a country-house near Neocæsarea, in Pontus; and he testifies himself that during his whole life he never forgot the strong impressions of piety which her exhortations and holy example made upon his tender mind. His father, who was the common master of eloquence and piety in Pontus, taught him the first elements of literature, but died about the year 349, soon after the birth of St. Peter of Sebaste. He lived sometimes at Cæsarea, where our saint was born, and where the sciences flourished; and after his decease the young Basil was sent to that great city for the sake of the schools. He was then only ten or twelve years old; but he far outstripped his age in the proficiency which he made in learning, and still more by the fervour with which he daily advanced in piety and devotion. He was judged equal in oratory to the best masters in that country when he removed to Constantinople, where Libanius, a heathen, the most celebrated rhetorician of that age, and one of the first men of the empire, gave public lectures with the greatest applause. 2 This professor was charmed with the abilities, gravity, and virtue of his scholar. He testifies in his epistles that he was in raptures as often as he heard him speak in public. He ever after kept an epistolary correspondence with him, and gave him constant marks of the highest esteem and veneration. 3 When Basil had made himself master of whatever the schools of Cæsarea and Constantinople were able to teach him, the same laudable thirst after useful learning carried him to Athens, which from the days of Pericles, who raised Greece from barbarism, remained still the seat of the Muses, and especially of the purity and Attic elegance of the Greek tongue, which was preserved in the East, though not always with equal splendour, till the taking of Constantinople by the Turks. Whereas in the West, the true taste in polite literature began generally to decline from the reign of Tiberius, till by the incursions of barbarians it seemed almost extinguished. 4
  St. Basil who had first met, and contracted an intimacy with St. Gregory Nazianzen at Cæsarea, was overjoyed to find so worthy a friend at Athens, in 352. St. Gregory, who had arrived there a little before, had credit enough to procure his friend a welcome reception, and the great reputation and gravity of Basil protected him from the rude treatment with which the scholars were wont to receive new-comers. 5 A sympathy of inclinations, an equal ardour for virtue and learning, and a mutual esteem for each other’s piety and great qualities, formed between the two saints a friendship which was not founded in a light and variable affection, but in rooted love and motives of true virtue. Hence no jealousy, envy, impatience, or other passion, was ever able to impair the union of their hearts, which was not like the passions of youth, resembling a spring flower which quickly fades, and founded only in base interest, sense, or pleasure. They had no other interest or desire than to consecrate themselves entirely to God, and to be to each other a mutual comfort, spur, and assistance in attaining to this great end. No passion more easily betrays youth than that of sensual fondness begun under the sacred name of friendship; nor is there anything in which they are to be more strongly upon their guard against themselves, lest what at first seems virtue terminate in passion. This holy pair of perfect friends, by their reservedness, watchfulness, confirmed habit of mortification of their senses, and assiduous prayer, maintained themselves free from the dangerous snares which the enemy of souls never fails to throw in the way on such occasions. They conversed together with such gravity, that they might have seemed angels destitute of bodies. With this guard over themselves, they enjoyed all the support and succour which holy friendship in God is capable of affording to pious souls. They had the same lodging and the same table; they pursued the same employments, and seemed to have but one will. All things were common between them, and in all they did they had both this only view, which they made the whole endeavour of all their actions, that watching or sleeping, in solitude or in company, at work or in study, fasting or taking necessary refreshment, or whatever else they did, they might live only to glorify God, continually adore and honour with all their faculties the Divine Being, and do his will. All their fervour and watchfulness could not have been able to secure their innocence had they not carefully shunned the rock of bad company; which St. Gregory particularly remarks: 6 “Neither did we,” says he, “keep company with scholars that were impious, rude, or impudent, but with those who were the best and the most peaceable, and those whose conversation brought us much profit, being persuaded that it is an illusion to seek the company of sinners on pretence to reform or convert them: it is far more to be feared they will communicate their poison to us.” A most important precept to all men, especially to youth; the neglect of which is the ruin of the strongest virtue, and renders abortive all the care and instructions of the most zealous parents and pastors, and all the fruit of the best education. St. Gregory adds of himself and his friend: “We knew only two streets, and chiefly the first of these which led us to the church and to the holy teachers and doctors who there attended the service of the altar, and nourished the flock of Christ with the food of life. The other street with which we were acquainted, but which we held in much less esteem, was the road to the schools, and to our masters in the sciences. We left to others the streets which led to the theatre, to spectacles, feastings, and diversions. We made it our only and great affair; it was our only aim, and all our glory, to be called and to be Christians.”  2
  St. Basil was an adept in all the liberal arts and sciences. An insight into every different branch of them contributes exceedingly to improve and enlarge the faculties of the mind, and is necessary to every one that would excel in any one science, especially, as Tully observes, in oratory. This art was in the highest request, and of the greatest use among the Greeks and Romans. And our two students in fitting themselves for the ministry of the Church, spared no pains to perfect themselves in the art of true and genuine eloquence. If the fathers seem sometimes to despise it, they speak only of the studied and superfluous ornaments of rhetoric which only tickle the ear, and in a Christian preacher debase the grandeur and dignity of our mysteries, and rather pervert than promote the end for which they are revealed to us. Too florid pomp of words takes off from the noble simplicity, which best suits the dignity of sacred truths, and which inimitably shines in the inspired writings, and renders their genuine eloquence superior to the most finished pieces of all profane orators. But with this simplicity are compatible the truest grandeur, and the most agreeable charms and beauty of diction of which any subject matter is susceptible. And St. Gregory Nazianzen and other fathers have shown, that though the divine truths are not preached to us in the persuasive words of human wisdom, 7 nevertheless the proper succours of eloquence are not to be slighted by pastors in the ministry of the word. Those who degrade that sublime office by a want of method in their discourses, or by a low grovelling expression, dishonour God whose ambassadors they are, depreciate his divine word, and by their carelessness and sloth give the faithful a contempt and distaste for the most inestimable treasure, with the dispensation of which God hath honoured them. And every one who is called to the care of souls is bound to exert his utmost efforts to qualify himself to publish to men the great truths of salvation with a dignity that becomes the great importance of that function which is the first, the principal, and the most indispensable duty of every pastor, and on which depends the salvation of most of the souls committed to his care. Basil and Nazianzen in this view applied themselves to the study of oratory, and imitating the industry of a Thucydides or a Demosthenes, they with incredible pains formed their style upon the best models. 8  3
  St. Basil excelled likewise in poesy, philosophy, and every other branch of literature. By many observations on natural philosophy scattered in his works, especially in his book, On the creation or work of six days, called Hexaëmeron, it appears that his skill in the history of nature was more just and more extensive than that of Aristotle, notwithstanding the helps which the treasures of an Alexander were able to procure him. In logic, such were his superior abilities, and dexterity, that it would have been more easy for a man to draw himself out of a labyrinth than to extricate himself from the web in which this great doctor entangled his adversaries by the force of his reasoning, says St. Gregory. He contented himself with learning the general principles of geometry, medicine, and the like sciences, rightly judging such an insight in to all the arts of extreme use to a person who would excel in any of them, but despising whatever seemed useless to one who had devoted himself solely to religion and piety. In checking thus his curiosity and natural thirst after knowledge, according to the excellent reflection of St. Gregory Nazianzen, he was not less admirable for what he neglected in the sciences than for what he had learned. After his preparatory studies, he applied himself to the assiduous meditation of the holy scriptures, that inexhausted fund of heavenly sentiments and knowledge. He seasoned his other studies with the assiduous reading of the works of the fathers. Thus did our great doctor enrich himself with that precious treasure, with which he stored his mind, and qualified himself in so excellent a manner for the ministry of the divine word, 9 and the advancement of piety.  4
  Basil was soon regarded at Athens as an oracle in sacred and profane learning. Both masters and students used their utmost endeavours to fix him among them; but he thought it incumbent upon him rather to serve his own country. Wherefore leaving St. Gregory some time behind him, he went from Athens in 355, and repaired to Cæsarea in Cappadocia, where being yet young, he opened a public school of oratory. He was also prevailed upon to plead at the bar, these being, in that age, the principal employs in which young orators and noblemen showed their abilities, and improved themselves in the art of speaking. Philosophy had already raised Basil above ambition, and he contemned posts of honour, and all the glittering advantages with which the world flattered him. He had always led a most virtuous and regular life, and sought only the kingdom of God. Yet seeing himself received by his countrymen with the greatest applause, every one testifying the highest esteem for his person and extraordinary endowments, he felt his heart secretly assaulted by a temptation to vain-glory, and a lurking satisfaction in the empty esteem of men. The danger of this enemy made him tremble for his soul; and he shortly after determined entirely to renounce the world, in order to remove himself further from its precipices. The zealous exhortations of his devout sister Macrina, and his friend Nazianzen, contributed not a little to strengthen him in this heroic resolution, and instil into his soul a love of holy poverty, and a contempt of human glory, with a relish for the more sublime philosophy of perfect virtue. By their advice he gave away the greater part of his estate to the poor; and rousing himself as from a lethargy, he began to behold the true light of heavenly wisdom, and thoroughly to understand the emptiness of worldly science, and all human things. In these dispositions he embraced the penitential and laborious state of a poor monk. Libanius, the famous heathen orator, was much struck at the generous magnanimity with which the saint despised the world whilst it caressed and flattered him, and this haughty sophist could not forbear exceedingly to admire and extol so heroic a greatness of soul. St. Basil and his friend St. Gregory, among the things which they forsook in renouncing the world, often enumerate eloquence, but mean the gaudy trimmings and empty delicacies of that art, which only please the ear; or they speak of the profane use of eloquence, to renounce which, especially in that age, was certainly a great sacrifice. For both by their example and works they condemn those Christian preachers, who, pretending to imitate the inspired apostles, cover their laziness and ignorance with a contemptuous disdain of the art of eloquence. 10 “After having forsaken the world,” says St. Gregory, “I have reserved only eloquence; and I do not repent the pains and fatigue I have suffered by sea and land, in order to attain it: I could wish for my own sake, and that of my friends, that we possessed all its force.” 11 And in another place, 12 “This alone remains of what I once possessed; and I offer, devote, and consecrate it entire to my God. The voice of his command, and the impulse of his spirit, have made me abandon all things beside, to barter all I was master of for the precious stone of the gospel. Thus I am become, or rather I wish ardently to become, that happy merchant who exchanges contemptible and perishable goods for others that are excellent and eternal. But being a minister of the gospel, I devote myself solely to the duty of preaching: I embrace it as my lot, and will never forsake it.”  5
  St. Basil, reflecting that the name of a monk would be his more heavy condemnation unless he faithfully fulfilled the obligations of that state, in 357 travelled over Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, and visited the most celebrated monasteries and hermits of the deserts in those countries, carefully instructing himself in all the duties and exercises of a monastic life. He was much edified by the example of those holy men, who by all their actions showed that they regarded themselves as travellers on earth, and citizens of heaven; and their conversation very much encouraged him to fervour in his resolution. In all his travels he was careful to choose only those for fathers and guides of his soul in the paths of heaven, whose faith was conformable to that of the Catholic church, as he assures us. 13 In 358 he returned into Cappadocia, and was ordained Reader by Dianæus, the old bishop of Cæsarea, by whom he had formerly been baptized. This prelate professed himself a Catholic, but had been unwarily seduced into some false steps in favour of the Arians. He had joined the Eusebians at Antioch in 341, and at Sardica or Philopopolis in 347; and when the council of Rimini in 359 had omitted the word Consubstantial in its decree, which the emperor had compelled the oriental bishops to subscribe, Dianæus had the weakness to comply. This was a sensible affliction to Basil, who respected him as his pastor, and had found him an affable and grave man. But union in faith prevailing more with the saint than any other ties, he upon this subscription, separated himself from his communion. The saint left Cappadocia in 358, and retired into Pontus, to the house of his grandmother, situated on the banks of the river Iris. His mother Emmelia, and his sister Macrina, had there founded a nunnery, which was at that time governed by the latter. St. Basil established a monastery of men on the opposite side of the river, which he governed five years, till, in 362, he resigned the abbacy to his brother St. Peter of Sebaste. About seven or eight furlongs from the monastery of St. Macrina, stood the church of the forty martyrs, enriched with an ample portion of their relics, and famous in the writings of St. Basil and his friends. The place was not far from Neocæsarea. St. Basil founded several other monasteries both of men and women in different parts of Pontus, which he continued to superintend even when he was bishop. For their direction he drew up his ascetic works, which consist chiefly of his Longer and Shorter Rules for cenobites or monks who live in community: in them he prefers the cenobitic life to the eremitical, as generally the more secure; he inculcates frequently that a monk ought to manifest to his superior all that passes most secret in his soul, and submit himself in all things to his direction: he orders that monks exercise hospitality to strangers, but without providing for them any dainty fare, which he said was as absurd as if they should have better clothes than their ordinary habits to receive them in; and adds this remark, that an austere diet would rid them of the trouble of idle visitants of a worldly spirit, which a neglect of this advice would invite. He says the table of a monk ought to teach even strangers sobriety. 14 He mentions, and excellently recommends each canonical hour of prayer, and though some have denied it, that of Prime, 15 by which we consecrate the first fruits of our thoughts to God, and fill our hearts before all other things, with thoughts of God, and with his holy joy. 16 The Monastic Constitutions which are ascribed to St. Basil, differ from these two rules in several articles, and are not ascribed to this father by any ancient author. Ceillier thinks them of somewhat a later date. The rule of St. Basil is universally followed to this day by all the oriental monks, even by those who call themselves of the order of St. Antony.  6
  We have the truest image of this great patriarch in the glass which he holds to us in his writings; and it would be doing an injury to virtue not to give some kind of portraiture of him in his retired life, which has been the model upon which in every succeeding age, many eminent saints have formed themselves in perfect virtue. He never had more than one tunic and one coat, lay on the ground, sometimes watched whole nights, and never made use of a bath, which before the use of linen, and in hot climates, was a very rare and extraordinary denial. He wore a long hair-cloth in the night; but not by day, that it might be concealed from men. He inured himself to bear the sharpest colds, which in the mountains of Pontus are very severe; and he never allowed himself the refreshment of any other fire than the heat of the sun. His only repast in the day was on bread and clear water, except that on festivals he added a few herbs; and so sparing were his meals, that he seemed almost to live without nourishment. St. Gregory of Nyssa compares his abstinence to the fast of Elias, who ate nothing for forty days; and Saint Gregory Nazianzen facetiously banters him upon his excessive paleness, that his body scarcely seemed to have any life; 17 and in another place he says, 18 that he was without a wife, without estate or goods, without flesh, and seemingly without blood. The saint himself testifies that he treated his body as a slave which was ever ready to revolt, unless continually kept under with a severe hand. From his epistles it appears that he was subject to frequent, and almost perpetual infirmities. In one he says, that in his best state of health, he was weaker than patients that are given over by the physicians usually are. 19 His interior mortification of the will, and his profound humility were far more wonderful. We have a proof of this latter in his constant desire to bury himself as much as possible in solitude, and to live unknown to men. In his letters he ascribes all the calamities of the world to his own sins. Solitude did not render him austere or morose to others: he always seemed the mildest and most patient of men. Libanius the pagan philosopher admired nothing in him so much as his astonishing meekness and sweetness towards all; which yet he tempered with an amiable gravity. He was a great lover of chastity, and built several monasteries for virgins, to whom he gave a written rule. About the year 359 he sold the remainder of his estate for the benefit of the poor during a great famine. St. Gregory Nazianzen assures us that he lived in the greatest poverty possible, and that this his resolution was as firm as a rock amidst the waters. He cheerfully divested himself of all he possessed in the world, that he might more securely pass through the dangerous sea of this life; for of all his temporal goods he did not reserve the least thing to himself; and even when he was bishop he was content to receive his subsistence from the charity of his friends. It was his riches to have no earthly goods, and to follow naked the cross of his Saviour, which was all his treasure. In every monastic exercise and virtue, he strove to copy, and even outdo the most perfect examples he had seen in the deserts of Syria and Egypt. In imitation of those monks, he wore a rough coarse habit, with a girdle, and shoes made of untanned leather; but he principally studied to practice the interior virtues of humility, penance, and mortification, of which the dress and manner of life were only the exterior marks or symbols. 20 He divided his time in the desert between prayer, meditation of the holy scriptures, and manual labour. He also went frequently into the neighbouring country to instruct the peasants in the principles of their holy faith, and to exhort them to the love of virtue. 21 One thing seemed at first wanting to him in his dear solitude which was the company of St. Gregory Nazianzen, without whom he seemed deprived of one half of himself. Being therefore delighted with the charms of his cell, he endeavoured to make his friend a partner in his happiness, and to procure to himself the comfort and assistance of his company and example. He therefore invited him by several letters to come to him. In one of these 22 he excellently describes the advantages of retirement for holy prayer, and the perfect subduing of the passions. He defines a monk one whose prayer is continual, who seasons his manual labour with that holy exercise, particularly with singing the psalms, whose heart is always lifted up to God, and whose only study it is to adorn his soul with virtues by assiduous meditation on the holy scriptures. He reduces the meals of a monk to one refection a day, and that on bread and water; and curtails his sleep by putting an end to it at midnight, and dedicating the rest of the night to prayer. He lays down rules for silence, modesty in exterior dress and carriage, and the like. The two SS. Gregory assure us that our saint in this letter gives us a true portraiture of himself. Nazianzen complied, and followed Basil into his retirement in Pontus. That saint describes the extreme austerity of the life which they led in a poor open hovel, with a little barren garden which they cultivated. 23 And he afterwards regretted the loss of the sweet tranquillity and happiness which they there enjoyed when occupied in singing psalms, watching in prayer which transported their souls to heaven, and exercising their bodies in manual labour, carrying wood, hewing stones, digging canals of water, planting trees and the like. 24 The two saints pursued together their studies of the holy scriptures. But in 362 St. Basil, taking with him some of his monks, returned to Cæsarea in Cappadocia.  7
  Julian the Apostate ascending the imperial throne in 361, wrote to St. Basil, whom he had known at Athens, and invited him to his court. The saint answered him, that the state of life in which he was engaged rendered it impossible for him to comply with his desire. Julian dissembled his anger for the present; but when the saint had come to Cæsarea, he again wrote to him, saying artfully, that he had not altered his sentiments in his regard, though he had given him just reason for it; yet he ordered him to pay into his exchequer one thousand pounds of gold, threatening in case of refusal, that he would level the city of Cæsarea with the ground. 25 The saint, no way moved at his threats, calmly replied, that far from being able to raise so large a sum, he had not of his own enough to purchase himself subsistence for one day. He added boldly in his letter, that he was surprised to see him neglect the essential duties of his crown, and provoke the anger of God by openly contemning his worship. 26 The emperor, enraged at this rebuke, marked out St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen for victims to his resentment after his return from his Persian expedition, in which he himself perished in June 363. Dianæus, bishop of Cæsarea, falling sick, sent for St. Basil, and protested to him that if he had signed the confession of Rimini he had done it without knowing the evil which it contained, and that he never had any other faith than that which was agreeable to the Nicene council, to which he steadfastly adhered: upon which St. Basil was reconciled to him. After his death Eusebius, a layman, was advanced to that see; and some time after St. Basil was by him ordained priest by compulsion, as St. Gregory Nazianzen assures us, who wrote to him a letter of comfort and advice on that occasion. 27 Our saint continued the same manner of life in the city which he had led in the desert, except that to his other labours he added that of preaching assiduously to the people. He erected there a monastery for men and another for women. Eusebius, the bishop, who stood in need of such an eloquent and prudent assistant, had for that purpose raised him to the priesthood. Nevertheless, by a frailty incident to men who watch not carefully over their own hearts, (by which expression of St. Gregory Nazianzen we must understand a secret passion of jealousy), he afterwards fell out with him, and removed him from his church. The people of Cæsarea and many bishops took part in favour of Basil against the bishop; but the saint, rejoicing to see himself again at liberty, privately withdrew, and returned to his former retreat at Pontus, where he recovered again the company of St. Gregory Nazianzen. This happened in 363. It is observed by some that St. Basil for some time corresponded and communicated with Basil of Ancyra, Eustathius of Sebaste, and Silvanus of Tarsus, who became ringleaders among the Semi-Arians; but though they refused to admit the word Consubstantial, they at that time explained their sentiments in such a manner as to appear orthodox, especially with respect to the article of the divinity of the Son of God; and they showed great zeal against the Arians. Some of them denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost, but concealed this error some time under ambiguous terms, pretending that they only disputed about certain expressions. Wherefore the conduct of St. Athanasius and St. Hilary, when they wrote their books on Synods, was the same towards them with that of St. Basil.  8
  Whilst our saint during three years breathed the sweet air of retirement, the empire was agitated by several revolutions. The Catholic Emperor Jovian dying in February, 364, Valentinian was chosen to fill the imperial throne, who immediately named his brother Valens emperor of the East. This latter suffered himself to be seduced into heresy by two profligate Arian bishops, Eudoxius of Constantinople and Euzoius of Antioch; and in 366 took a journey to Cæsarea, with the intent of putting the churches of that city into the hands of the Arians. St. Basil had then lost St. Gregory, and being invited back by his bishop, Eusebius, and alarmed at the dangers of that church, he hastened to defend it against the persecutions of heresy. Upon his arrival at Cæsarea he opposed the Arians with so much prudence and courage, that after many attempts they were obliged to desist from their pretensions with shame and confusion. He was no less vigilant by his zealous sermons to instil into the faithful the most perfect maxims of virtue, reconcile all differences, and extinguish law-suits. When violent hail and storms had destroyed the harvest, and a famine filled the country with desolation, the poor in their extreme necessity found relief in the boundless charity of Basil, who, like another Joseph, opened for their abundant supply the coffers of the rich. He with his own hands distributed among them bread and other provisions, waited upon them at table with an apron before him, and with wonderful humility washed their feet. By his deference, prudence, zeal, and charity, he won the affections of Eusebius, who conceived the highest esteem for him, and made great use of his councils in all affairs. That prelate dying about the middle of the year 370 in the arms of Basil, the saint was chosen and consecrated archbishop of that metropolitical church. St. Athanasius expressed an extraordinary joy at this promotion, which already announced the greatest victories over a triumphing heresy.  9
  St. Basil being placed in this dignity, seemed as much to surpass himself as he had before surpassed others. He preached to his people even on working days, both morning and evening, and so thronged were his auditories that he calls them a sea; 28 and they listened with so great eagerness to his discourses, that he compares himself to a mother who is obliged after her breasts are drained, still to give them to her dear babe, by that fruitless satisfaction to hinder his crying. So was he obliged, as he says, in order to satisfy the ardour of his flock, to make his voice heard by them, when a long sickness had exhausted his strength, and rendered him almost unable to speak. 29 He established at Cæsarea many devout practices which he had seen observed in Egypt, Syria, and other places; as that of all meeting in the church to public morning prayer, and singing certain psalms together before sunrise, at which many assisted with the deepest compunction, and with torrents of tears. 30 He testifies that the people then communicated at Cæsarea every Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and on all the feasts of the martyrs. 31 When the province was afflicted with a great drought, the good pastor prostrated himself in prayer before God till the scourge was removed, as his brother of Nyssa relates. If it be one of the principal duties of a bishop to look upon himself as the guardian and trustee of the poor, as St. Justin styles him, 32 this charge St. Basil most faithfully fulfilled. Besides his other excessive charities he founded a vast hospital, which Nazianzen calls a new city, which continued famous long after his time, and was from him called Basiliades. The same author says, that, “Having well considered it, he thought it might deservedly be reckoned among the miracles of the world; so numerous were the poor and sick that came thither, and so admirable was the care and order with which they were served.” St. Basil frequently visited it, comforted the patients, and instructed and preached to them. His compassion for the spiritual miseries of souls which vice, heresy, and schism, seduced, was to him a perpetual source of tears and sighs to the Father of mercies in their behalf; and his zeal made him spare no pains, and fear no dangers to apply all possible remedies to their evils. Of this we have a remarkable proof in the glorious triumph which he gained over the Emperor Valens.  10
  That prince seeing this saint stand as an impregnable tower, baffling all the efforts of his heresy, resolved to remove him out of the way. By several acts of violence and persecution, he had already struck a terror into the orthodox pastors. Reeking with the blood of many martyrs, Valens passed like lightning through several provinces, blasting them with Arianism, and arrived in Cappadocia, ready to dart his thunder upon the great archbishop of Cæsarea, who alone stood more in his way than all the rest together. He sent before him the prefect Modestus with orders to prevail upon Basil by threats or promises to communicate with his Arians. Modestus being seated on his tribunal, attended by the lictors with their fasces, summoned St. Basil to appear before him. The saint came with a cheerful and undaunted countenance. The prefect received him courteously, and with many smooth words endeavoured to bring him to a compliance with the emperor’s desire. But perceiving this method made no impression, he assumed a haughty air, and said to him, in an angry tone: “Basil, what dost thou mean by opposing so great an emperor, whom all obey? Art thou under no apprehensions of feeling the effects of the power we are armed with?” Basil.—“To what does this power extend?” Modestus.—“To confiscation of goods, banishment, tortures, and death.” Basil.—“If you can threaten me with anything worse than this, do so: for none of all these things give me the least uneasiness.” Modestus.—“How so?” Basil.—“He who has nothing to lose is secure against confiscation. I am master of nothing but a few books and the rags I wear, neither of which, I presume, you have any great occasion for. As to banishment, I know of no such thing in your power to inflict upon me, who account not the country I now inhabit my own. Heaven only is my country. I as little fear your torments: my emaciated body cannot hold out long under them. The first stroke will despatch me, and put an end both to my life and pain. Much less do I dread death, which I regard as a favour; for it will bring me sooner to my Creator, for whom alone I live.” Modestus.—“Never did any man yet talk at this rate of freedom and unconcernedness to Modestus.” Basil.—“Perhaps, this is the first time you had ever to do with a bishop. In all other occurrences we bishops are of all men living the meekest and most submissive: we do not carry ourselves haughtily towards the meanest plebeian, much less towards persons vested with much power. But where the cause of God and religion is at stake, we overlook all things else, regarding God alone. Your fire, daggers, beasts, and burning pincers in this cause are our option and delight: you may threaten and torment us; but can never overcome us.” Modestus.—“I give you till to-morrow to deliberate upon the matter.” Basil.—“I shall be the same man to-morrow that I am to-day.” 33 The prefect could not but admire the saint’s intrepidity; and going out the next day to meet the emperor, who was coming into the city, he informed him of what had passed between himself and Basil, and expressed his astonishment at his heroic courage. Valens, enraged at the miscarriage, would assist himself at a second trial of skill upon the holy confessor, together with Modestus, and an officer of his household called Demosthenes, the most insolent and brutish of men. Afterwards the prefect ventured upon a third attack; but the stout soldier of Christ acquired each time greater glory by his courage. So that Modestus in the end said to the emperor: “We are overcome: this man is above our threats.” And Valens laid aside for that time all further attempts upon him. On the feast of the Epiphany the emperor went to the great church, and was much surprised and edified with the good order and respect with which the divine office was celebrated; and, above all, with the devotion and piety with which the archbishop performed the divine service at the altar. The emperor did not presume to present himself to the communion, knowing he would have been rejected; but he went up trembling at the offertory, and made the usual offering, which the bishop did not refuse, dispensing with the rigour of the ecclesiastical canons on such an occasion.  11
  Nevertheless the next day Valens to satisfy the importunities of his Arian bishops, ordered that Basil should depart into banishment. But at the time that the emperor gave this order against the saint, God, in the high court of heaven, passed a sentence against his only son, named Valentinian Galatus, a child then about six years old. That very night was the royal infant seized with a violent fever, under which the physicians were not able to give him the least relief; and the empress Dominica told the emperor, that this calamity was a just punishment of heaven for his banishing Basil; on which account she had been disquieted by terrible dreams. Whereupon Valens sent for the saint, who was then just preparing to go into banishment. No sooner had the saint set foot within the palace, but the young prince’s fever began sensibly to abate, and Basil assured his parents of his absolute recovery, provided they would order him to be instructed in the Catholic faith. The emperor accepted the condition, St. Basil prayed, and the young prince was cured. But Valens, unfaithful to his promise, afterwards suffered an Arian bishop to baptize the child, who immediately relapsed and died. 34 This stroke did not make Valens enter into himself; but growing more hardened by the contempt of grace, he gave a second order for banishing Basil. Going to sign it, he took for this purpose one of those reeds which the ancients used as we do pens, which many eastern people do at this day. This reed broke in his hands, as did a second, and a third in like manner, as refusing to write; and as he was taking a fourth he found his hand tremble, and the sinews of his arm slackened, which made him in a fright tear the paper, and leave Basil in quiet. 35 The prefect Modestus was not so ungrateful to him as the emperor had been; for recovering of a dangerous sickness by his charitable visit and prayers, he acknowledged the benefit done him, and was ever after the saint’s friend.  12
  St. Basil took two journeys into Armenia, to pacify certain disturbances, and to redress scandals caused by the heretics in those parts. In 371 Cappadocia was divided by an imperial law into two provinces, and of the second Tyana was made the metropolis. Whereupon Anthimus, bishop of that city, claimed the jurisdiction of a metropolitan, grounding his pretensions on the civil division of the province; because it often happened that the bishop of the metropolis of a province was made an archbishop, though this was no general rule; for all ecclesiastical jurisdiction is derived from the church; and no patriarch or synod had raised the dignity of the church of Tyana to be metropolitical. Wherefore St. Basil justly rejected the pretended claim of Anthimus, and appointed St. Gregory Nazianzen bishop of Sasima in that province. But St. Gregory never got possession of that see; and St. Basil at length allowed that the church of Tyana should, on certain conditions, be honoured with the dignity which it claimed. In 373 the saint was visited with a dangerous fit of illness, in which he was once thought dead. 36 Yet he recovered, and took the benefit of the hot baths. In 376, Demosthenes, vicar to the præfectus prætorii, being made governor of Cappadocia, favoured Eustathius of Sebaste, and the other Arians, and raised a violent persecution against the Catholics, especially the friends of St. Basil. But the emperor Valens being defeated and burnt in a cottage in Thrace by the Goths, whom he himself had infected with the Arian heresy, on the 9th of August, 378, peace was restored, to the church by the emperor Gratian. St. Basil fell sick the same year, and prepared himself for his passage to eternity. The whole city in the utmost grief and consternation resorted to his house, ready to use violence to his soul, if it were possible, that it might not quit its habitation. But the time was come in which God had decreed to recompense his faithful servant, and the saint with these words in his mouth: “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” departed this life on the 1st of January, 379, being fifty-one years old. His riches he had sent before him to heaven, and he did not leave enough for a tomb-stone; but the people not only erected an everlasting monument for him in their hearts, but also honoured him with funeral obsequies magnificent to the last degree. His sacred remains were carried by the hands of saints, and accompanied by an incredible confluence of people. Every one was for touching his shroud, and the bed on which he had slept, thinking to receive some blessing from their devotion. Sighs and lamentations drowned the singing of the psalms; the very Pagans and Jews wept with the Christians, lamenting the death of the common father of all, and the great doctor of the world. Those who knew him, took a pleasure in recounting his minutest actions, and every expression they had heard from his mouth; and such was their love for him, that they affected to imitate him in his gestures, his beard, his gravity, and his slow delivery in speaking. They made it a fashion to copy after him in the form of his bed, his clothes, and spare table. Thus writes St. Gregory Nazianzen, who in his panegyric of St. Basil displays the virtues of his friend in such a manner as must make his discourse no less immortal on earth than the saint whom he praised. 37 St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Amphilochius, and St. Ephrem also wrote panegyrics in his honour. The two first of these testify that immediately after the death of the saint, the Greeks kept his festival on the 1st of June, as they do at this day: the Latins have always transferred it to the 14th of June, the day on which he was ordained bishop. Theodoret gives him the title of the Great, which epithet has been always appropriated to him. He is styled by the same father, the light of the universe: by St. Sophronius, the honour and ornament of the church; by St. Isidore of Pelusium, a man inspired by God, and by the general council of Chalcedon, the great Basil, the minister of grace who has explained the truth to the whole earth. Photius Erasmus in his excellent preface prefixed to the Greek edition of St. Basil’s works, in 1532, and many other judicious critics call St. Basil the most accomplished orator that ever lived, and his style the best model of genuine eloquence. Rollin and all others place him at least in the first class, as one of the greatest masters of eloquence. Photius writes 38 that “Whoever desires to become a panegyrist or orator will neither need Plato nor Demosthenes if he take Basil for his original; for there is no writer whose diction is more pure, more beautiful, and more expressive, or whose sense is stronger or more full. He joins all the powers of persuasion with sweetness and perspicuity, and his whole discourse runs like a still river which flows smoothly, and as it were of its own accord from its spring.” Like Thucydides and Demosthenes, he is always pressing upon himself by the multitude of his thoughts, and the close union they bear one with another. The liveliness and justness of his ideas, and the fruitfulness of his imagination vie with the perspicuity of his expressions: the harmoniousness of his numbers corresponds everywhere with the sense; and his style by the beauty of its tropes and its easy transitions rivals the sweetness and smoothness of Xenophon and Plato. Above all, the clearness of his understanding and the truth of his sentiments shine in whatever he writes, and his animated diction and commanding genius brighten whatever comes under his pen, carry light into the darkest recesses, and impress his own most lively images on his readers. 39 St. Gregory of Nazianzen says of his writings: 40 “When I read his treatise Of the Creation, I seem to behold my Creator striking all things out of nothing; when I run over his writings against the heretics, methinks the fire of Sodom sparkles in my view, flashes upon the enemies of the faith, and consumes their criminal tongues to ashes. When I consider his treatise of the Holy Ghost, I find God working within me, and I am no longer afraid of publishing aloud the truth: when I look into the Explications of the Holy Scripture, I dive into the most profound abyss of mysteries. His panegyrics of the martyrs make me despise my body, and seem animated with the same noble ardour of battle. His moral discourses assist me to purify both my body and soul, that I may become a worthy temple of God, and an instrument of his praises, to make known his glory and his power.”  13
  St. Basil was justly admired not so much for his extraordinary learning and eloquence, as for his profound humility and eminent zeal and piety. This is the only true greatness. If this saint with his extraordinary talents, had made a fortune in the world, gained applause, riches, and the first honours in the empire, what would all this have availed him? What advantage is it now to Demosthenes and Cicero to have been the masters of eloquence? True Christian virtue is the only solid glory and real good. Basil was only great, because he devoted himself and all his talents to the glory of God, and to procure advantages which surpass all things temporal, and which never fade.  14
Note 1. Or. 20. [back]
Note 2. This Libanius taught rhetoric at Constantinople, Nicomedia, and Antioch; was much honoured by Julian the Apostate, and surviving to the end of the reign of Theodosius was by him raised to the dignity of Præfectus-Prætorii. Several epistles, orations, and declamations of this celebrated sophist are extant, in which he often inveighs against Constantine the Great and the Christian religion. [back]
Note 3. Libanius, apud S. Basilium, ep. 145, 152. [back]
Note 4. St. Basil excellently observes, (De Legendis Gentilium Libris,) that though the holy scriptures and the maxims of eternal life are the main study of Christians, yet eloquence and other branches of profane literature are the leaves which serve for an ornament and the defence of the fruit. He therefore prescribes that youth be prepared for the sublime study of the sacred oracles by reading diligently for some time the best profane poets and orators, but not promiscuously. For he requires that those in which examples or maxims dangerous to virtue are found, be most carefully shunned. Julian the Apostate thought it impossible for him to undermine the Christian religion so long as its pastors and defenders were the most learned men of the empire, such as St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzum, St. Hilary, Apollinarius, and Diodorus of Tarsus. He therefore forbade Christians to teach grammar, eloquence, or philosophy: a law which these fathers loudly complained of as the most base and unjust contrivance of tyranny, as Ammianus Marcellinus, though a heathen, and Julian’s own panegyrist, confesses, (l. 22, c. 10; l. 25, c. 4,) and as is excellently set forth by Le Beau, (Hist. du Bas Empire, l. 12, n. 24, t. 3, p. 171.) This author observes, that from the testimony of the fathers and historians it is clear that this prince by a posterior law forbade the Christians also to read profane authors. To make up in some measure for this loss, St. Gregory Nazianzen and, Apollinarius set themselves to write poems upon pious subjects. But the master-pieces of all ages could never be supplied by hasty compositions, how excellent soever they are. [back]
Note 5. Naz. Or. 20. [back]
Note 6. Naz. Or. 20. [back]
Note 7. 1 Cor. ii. 4; 2 Cor. xi. 6. [back]
Note 8. According to the true method to succeed in such studies, they did not, at first setting out, overwhelm their mind with reading a multitude of authors, which instead of enriching and forming, would only have disordered and confounded it. They observed the useful Latin proverb: “Beware of the man of one book.” They only then enlarged their reading when they had already formed a regular system of each science. It was their first care to make a select choice of the most excellent authors, to read them, not superficially and in a hurry, but with attention, again and again, and to digest their lectures by close reflection: they often reviewed the most beautiful passages, compared them together, and strove to imitate them till they seized every delicacy and perfection of diction and sentiment. In their own compositions they often corrected their first thoughts, took time and pains to polish, and give to every part of their discourse all possible strength and ornament, and to render it perfectly uniform and beautiful: they doubtless submitted their productions to one another’s censure, or to that of other friends, and they knew the critical season of laying aside the file: not like those who being never able to please themselves spoil what was well done; or those who are so blindly enamoured of their own works as to be loth to pare away trifling thoughts, or superfluous words and repetitions which weaken and debase the finest strokes; by which fault the many real beauties of Seneca are eclipsed. The gracefulness of a natural, easy, and animated action, the last accomplishment of oratory, is acquired by attention and practice in declaiming: by which our happy students attained to the amiable elegance and delicacy of gesture in speaking, which was the distinguishing character of Cicero; and at the same time imitated the fire and activity of Demosthenes, who, in that respect, whether in composition or the delivery, never had an equal among the ancient Greeks and Romans. The stage gives only a theatrical accent and gesture, ill becoming an orator: it never formed any great man to speak well at the bar or in the pulpit. It was therefore no loss, but a complicated advantage to our saints, that, from motives of virtue, they abhorred the theatre. The faithfulness of their own geniuses, and this their happy method, and success in their studies, rendered them the two most accomplished orators the world has ever produced, superior even to Cicero and Demosthenes, the unrivalled princes of eloquence among the ancient Greeks and Romans. Both resemble more Demosthenes than the Latin orator. This latter adapting himself to the genius of the Romans, usually expatiates in fine images and pleasing turns upon the same topic: whereas the Athenians being naturally more thoughtful, a lively hint, a quick thought, or a close enthymeme, was more agreeable to them who loved close attention, and whom the most rapid flash could not escape; they would have the pleasure of cracking the nut to come at the kernel; and required in every word a deep sense, and a fresh fund of reflection. The genius of the modern French, and much more that of the Spaniards and Italians, goes in this respect beyond that of the ancient Romans; hence their Algerottis and Flechiers, often amuse themselves with playing long on the same thought, though among them the inimitable Fontaine, Bossuet, and some others, are exceptions to this remark. Demosthenes, in imitation of Thucydides, and suitably to the genius of the Athenians, is everywhere close, full of profound sense, as quick as lightning; he reasons by short enthymemes, which antiquity so much admired in his writings, and by which he confounded and beat down all opponents with an irresistible force. Notwithstanding the inimitable fire and the natural easiness of his style, in which we entirely lose sight of the orator, being totally occupied on the matter, his art sometimes shows itself, and his discourse appears laboured: whence it was objected to him, that they smelt of the oil of his lamp. Cicero most admirably proportions his style to his subject, and he who dazzles our eyes, and swells above the clouds when he describes the perfect orator, glides like a gentle stream in his philosophical works, everywhere with equal sprightliness, and with incomparable charms and graces. Yet Fenelon, in his dialogues on eloquence observes, that his style appears somewhat studied; he also exceeds in dress, and indulges the pleasure of his hearers by an excess of graces and elegance. Nazianzen seems in this more happy and judicious than Cicero, though he often loads his style with all the ornament it can bear, because to please is one of the surest methods of persuading. Those who are fond of luxuriant graces and flowers in discourse, call this father the most eloquent of all orators. But critics who prefer a chaste severe style, give the palm to St. Basil, who in plain significant words, without pomp, imitates that inexpressible agreeableness which nature stamps on all her works, whose graces are the most attractive, and, at the same time, the most plain and unaffected. He is discreet and sparing in the use of figures, which are as it were, the salt and seasoning of discourse, and must not be lavished. His style is everywhere most correct, clear, smooth, and elegant, and he clothes his sentiments with the most engaging charms and graces of speech, which flow so easy, that the least vestiges of art or study are not to be discerned in his writings. To use the words of a judicious critic, he everywhere speaks in that language which nature itself would make use of, could she express herself without the external aid of speech. We may say of St. Basil, what Quintillian writes of Cicero, that in him eloquence hath displayed all its powers, and unfolded all its riches. We are indeed obliged to confess, that if leisure had allowed St. Chrysostom to give to all his writings their last polish, perhaps the world would readily agree, that there never appeared a genius better fitted for eloquence, or more eminently possessed of all its graces. Several pieces which he finished, seem equal, if not superior, in this respect, to anything extant, whether of the classical writers or fathers, and even in extemporary performances, his good sense, his fire, most beautiful images, noble, bold, and natural figures, the clearness of his conceptions, sweetness of expression, and flow of language, never forsake him, even in digressions and long parentheses, in which he sometimes almost forgets himself, and which, however useful, his fine file would have smoothed or pared away. His voluminous excellent works are, to a preacher, the richest magazine, and the most complete treasure of the maxims of Christian virtue. [back]
Note 9. In imitation of the Basils, the Chrysostoms, the Ambroses, and the Augustines, let every young clergyman read diligently the Bible, first by itself; afterwards with accurate commentaries, as those of Du Hamel, Menochius, Estius, Carieres, or Calmet; especially the psalms, prophets, and New Testament. At the same time by assiduous holy meditation on these divine oracles, he must make himself master of the spiritual sense, and as it were, the marrow of the sacred text, and its boundless riches, in which the incomparable comments of St. Chrysostom, especially on the psalms, St. Matthew, and St. Paul, will be the best guide and assistance, and are themselves a treasure and a fund of spiritual learning and morality, infinitely fruitful, and embellished with the blandishments of the most commanding and affecting eloquence. It is to be wished the sermons of St. Chrysostom to the people of Antioch, and his comments on the scriptures, certain select homilies of St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Austin, with St. Cyprian to Donatus, and on the Lord’s Prayer St. Eucherius to Valerian, and some other like pieces were collected into a vade mecum, or pocket-companion, for the study of every Christian preacher, who may from these sources enrich himself with the wealth of others, which he makes his own, whilst he adorns his mind with their precious spoils. To speak methodically and correctly, he ought at first to write his discourses. Thus in a short time he will be qualified to speak to any moral subject extempore. To render himself more perfectly master of his matter, he may acquire abundant stores from several modern writers on moral virtues, from the works of Lewis of Granada, Alvarez du Paz, Rodriguez, or Loriot. Several sermons of Bourdaloue will inspire him with a noble elevation of sentiment and diction; and many of the sermons of Massillon will teach him the anatomy of the human heart and passions, set forth in so clear a light, and painted in such lively colours, that the most refined self-love will not be able to disguise or hide itself. A true turn and command of language will be much improved by a custom of speaking correctly, by good conversation, and by an acquaintance with good writers. The works of Gother, Manning, Addison, and Bishop Atterbury, or Bishop Sherlock, may suffice for this purpose, if they are read and studied with proper attention to their diction, and if this be for some time imitated in the composition of themes or translations.
  Those pretended Christian preachers deviate from the first principles of their divine religion, and rob the people of its infinitely precious advantages, who in their sermons seem to lose sight of the gospel, and banish it from the pulpit, to preach a mere heathen morality, and speak rather like a Seneca than a disciple of St. Paul, or minister of Christ. Human reason or philosophy is too weak to stem the tide of man’s passions, to bring solid comfort or spiritual nourishment to his heart, and much more to point out the sources of his disorders, and teach or apply to them effectual remedies. This is the privilege of revealed faith alone, which furnishes most powerful motives, and gives both light and strength. The fathers studied and preached the sacred oracles of the gospel. This gave to their discourses the weight of the divine authority, which is stamped upon the word of God, and made it in their mouths a fruitful seed for the conversion of sinners, and the propagation of true virtue and religion. [back]
Note 10. Naz. Or. 27. [back]
Note 11. Or. 3. [back]
Note 12. Or. 12. [back]
Note 13. St. Basil, Ep. 204. [back]
Note 14. Regulæ fusius explicatæ, Reg. 20. [back]
Note 15. As Ceillier demonstrates, t. 6, p. 184, against Bulteau, l. 2, Hist. Mon. de l’Orient. [back]
Note 16. Regulæ fusius explicatæ, Reg. 37. [back]
Note 17. Naz. Ep. 6. [back]
Note 18. Orat. 19. [back]
Note 19. St. Basil, Ep. 257. [back]
Note 20. Ep. 79. [back]
Note 21. Sozom. l. 6, c. 17. [back]
Note 22. Ep. 2, ed. Bened. olim. Ep. 1. [back]
Note 23. Naz. Ep. 8. [back]
Note 24. Ep. 9. [back]
Note 25. St. Bas. ep. 207. [back]
Note 26. St. Bas. ep. 208. [back]
Note 27. Naz. ep. 11. [back]
Note 28. Hexaëm. hom. 2 et 3. [back]
Note 29. In Ps. 59. [back]
Note 30. Ep. 63. [back]
Note 31. Ep. 289. [back]
Note 32. Apol. 1. ol. 2. [back]
Note 33. Nazian. Nyss. in Eunom. l. 1, p. 313. Theodoret. l. 4, c. 16. Rufin. l. 2. c. 9. [back]
Note 34. Naz. Theodoret, Socrat. Sozom. [back]
Note 35. St. Greg. Nyss. St. Emphrem, Theodoret. [back]
Note 36. Ep. 141. [back]
Note 37. Or. 20. [back]
Note 38. Cod. 141. [back]
Note 39. The works of St. Basil are published in three volumes, folio. In old editions the Greek text is sometimes imperfect, and the style in the Latin translation is often low, and in some places not exact. The most accurate edition was given us by the Benedictins of the Congregation of St. Maur, by Dom. Garnier, in 1721, but the last volume, with the life of the saint, was published by Dom. Marant, in 1730.
  His Hexaëmeron or Explication of the work of Six Days, or The Creation of the World, consists of nine homilies, and is a finished piece, equally admired by the ancients and moderns, both for the erudition it displays, and the unparalleled elegance of the composition. Cassiodorus says he expounded all the holy scriptures from the beginning to the end; but of those works we have only extant thirteen homilies on the Psalms, and a commentary on Isaiah, which Ceillier maintains genuine against Dom Garnier. His five books against Eunomius are a confutation of Arianism written against the Apology for that heresy drawn up by Eunomius, who was a native of Cappadocia, but ordained deacon by Eudoxius, the Arian patriarch at Antioch, where he was a disciple of Aëtius, but surpassed his master in reputation with his party. Having been the author of innumerable disturbances at Antioch, Chalcedon, and Constantinople, he was banished by the Emperor Theodosius to Halmyrida upon the Danube, but soon after permitted to return to Cæsarea in Cappadocia, in which country he had an estate at Dacorus, where he died in 393. Eunomius not only taught the Word to be a creature, but added to Arianism many other errors.
  In the second volume of the Benedictin edition of St. Basil’s works we have twenty-four homilies on moral virtues, and on the feasts of martyrs. The homilies against usurers, which is his comment on the fourteenth psalm, and that against gluttony and drunkenness, are particularly beautiful and elegant. His moral homilies are followed by his ascetic works, and by his liturgy. This is extant in Greek, and has been used by almost all the Greek churches, at least ever since the sixth age, as appears from Petrus Diaconus. (l. de Incarn. c. 8.) The Coptic and Egyptian liturgies are translations from this. (See Renaudot, Liturg. t. 1, and Le Brun, Liturg. t. 2.) It is clear from the testimonies of St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Proclus, Peter the Deacon, the Seventh Council, &c. that St. Basil compiled a liturgy; but that which now bears his name, and is used by the Greeks, Copts, Arabs, &c. has perhaps received alterations in the less essential parts since his time. St. Basil’s book Of Morals is a collection of scripture texts on penance, and the chief duties of a Christian life, to point them out to the faithful. His three canonical epistles prescribe the term of canonical penance to be enjoined penitents for their sins. The best edition is that given by Beveridge among the canons of the Greek Church. In the third volume of St. Basil’s works we have his learned and useful book of the Holy Ghost, addressed to St. Amphilochius, and written in 375. In it he proves the divinity of the Holy Ghost, from various passages of the sacred writings, from the creation of the world, the gifts of grace and miracles, and all the divine attributes which are ascribed to him. He shows the same from the tradition of the church, the use and necessity of which he excellently demonstrates, (ch. 27, p. 54.) In his fifth book against Eunomius he sets himself to prove the same article, namely, the divinity of the Third Person. His letters, which Photius propounds as models of the epistolary style, amount to the number of three hundred and thirty-six. In that to a lady called Cæsaria, written in 372, he says that in the persecution of Valens, when Catholic priests often lay hid, it was allowed the faithful to keep the blessed eucharist at home, and to communicate themselves. (Ep. 93, ad Cæsar, p. 186.) Nothing can be more beautiful than his apology for the monks who rise at midnight to prayer, and who praise God in continual tears and compunction. He wishes no other revenge to their adversaries, than that they likewise would live in tears and perpetual penance. (Ep. 207, p. 311.) Writing to his cousin Suranus, a Cappadocian, duke or governor of Scythia, he exhorts him to continue sending relief to the persecuted Christians in Persia, and entreats him to procure and send him into his own country some relics of the martyrs who at that time suffered for Christ. (Ep. 155, p. 244.) St. Basil often zealously exhorts the faithful to celebrate the feasts of the martyrs. (Ep. 95, 176, 282, 252, 243, &c.) and expresses a great veneration for their relics, before which he says the faithful in every necessity fly to their intercession and are heard. (Hom. in 40 mart. p. 155, Hom. in Barlaam Mart. p. 139, &c.) The book On Virginity, under the name of St. Basil, cannot be his work, and is absolutely unworthy to bear so great a name, though it was written in the same age. It is addressed to Letoius, bishop of Melitene, to whom St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote his canonical epistle. Letoius was only made a bishop in 381, two years after the death of St. Basil. In this work are mentioned two clear instances of sacramental confession. (p. 646.) St. Basil himself frequently teaches the use of auricular confession of sins. (in Ps. 32, and ep. canon, 2 can. 34, et Reg. Brev. c. 228.) St. Basil’s excellent ascetic works are translated into French, and published with notes by Hermant, in 1673. [back]
Note 40. Or. 20. [back]